Valerie Lavigne, the enologist that Donatella Cinelli Colombini brought from the University of Bordeaux to her cellars Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino and Fattoria del Colle in the South of Chianti, explains us her idea of excellence in wine making. Something that is opposite to globalization but it is able to compete at the highest level on the international market.
The reasoning starts from a question that puts the concept itself of “international vine” in doubt. For the French enologist “the autochthonous varieties that produce great wines, such as the Sangiovese del Brunello, are always cultured on their North limit. This means that they are cultivated where getting to a full maturation is more difficult. It is in those conditions that the expression of the grape is the most original and inimitable. This holds also for the international varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, that grow in Burgundy or in Bordeaux, which are their North limit. The aromas of these varieties are unique and identifiable in those specific climatic conditions. Whenever cultivated in warmer or dryer areas, they give good but not unique wines, since their aromatic expression loses its peculiar character there.”
In other words, the concept that “Merlot is the same everywhere” is simply not true. It is only by challenging nature in the most extreme conditions that we can get to excellence. This is the role of the “terroir”, i.e. the stamp of the land, the mark of a region “means having a recognizable taste that makes a wine great; the taste is the expression of one or more varieties grown in a specific area. Without this stamp of the terroir, diversity is impossible. Hence, in my opinion, the search for quality is necessarily related to the concepts of territory, identity and diversity.”
This idea, which makes the vine the absolute protagonist, raises a question: which is the direction for the future? “I think this is the moment to study blends among autochthonous varieties, i.e. to produce wines related to a specific area, hence with a recognizable and inimitable taste. Why not imagining the combination of color, power, low acidity and strong tannin of the Sagrantino with the delicacy, high acidity and pale color of the Sangiovese? It is the quality of the tannin of each one of the two varieties that should guide the blend. But for sure there are many different things that can be tried. I’m just thinking, for instance, to another great variety of the Central areas of Italy, like the Colorino.”
The point of view of the French researcher is bold, and it is the result of the long experience she matured in the most prestigious enology university in the world. Her abilities as a researcher and as a taster induced the president of the Faculty of Enology of Bordeaux, Denis Dubordieu, to choose Valerie to be part, together with Christophe Olivier, of a group of consultants that assists the most prestigious French cellars, such as Châteaux d’Yquem, Margaux and Cheval Blanc. Valerie’s opinions are really appreciated in the world of wine making.
Summing up, the idea is to push on the identity and to preserve the specific characters of the different varieties in specific territories, obtained also through a different relationship with the barrels. “The wood cannot disturb this authenticity; it must stay as a support, an element of complexity for the wine.” In the same way, the cultivated land must be “eco-compatible to produce great wines”. In her words there is a clear no to the farmers that pollute with the excuse to produce good wines. “No residues of pesticides in the wine, in the land, in the air and in the water: this is a must. A clean countryside is nice. The producers that protect the environment invest on the economic, social and cultural future of their sons.”